The world of social media is a funny place. It can turn outwardly sane well balanced individuals who live in houses and drive family cars well under the speed limit to work in offices with stain-resistant carpets into invective-spewing bile-drenched nutcases who would rip the head off a baby and fill the gaping hole with the pink stuff that overtook New York in Ghostbusters 2 when the bad vibes got out of hand.
I don’t tend to use social media, I’m from a generation who grew up writing in ink on bits of compressed wood pulp, walking to a post office who would use a small van to take my inky wood pulp to the person I wanted to communicate with at some point in the next few days. In general I find the internet a bit too shouty, not particularly considered. Being able to communicate exactly what you were thinking at that exact moment to thousands of people doesn’t, on the face of it, lead to well balanced debate and discourse.
"I had offended, disrespected and denigrated snowboarding and snowboarders across the globe, and completely failed to appreciate the essence of our great sport/pastime. Hmmm…"
So when I recently suggested that snowboarding was essentially an exercise in “dicking about or posing" (during a ‘ho-hum’ review of Travis’ round-the-pacific water particle quest, The Fourth Phase), it sparked fury the like of which I have never seen before (other than on the sideline of a Sunday League football game for under 11s). I had offended, disrespected and denigrated snowboarding and snowboarders across the globe, and completely failed to appreciate the essence of our great sport/pastime. Hmmm…
Which got me thinking… how seriously should we take snowboarding?
The Surfer’s Path was a great magazine, it had grown-up ideas and published grown-up surf stories for grown-ups, but it sadly folded (no pun intended) because people starting taking their smartphones into the bog, not magazines, and that was that (it was actually something to do with advertising revenue, but that’s doesn't lend itself to such a visual metaphor).
In the 100th edition, the editor Alex Dick-Read was clearly in a reflective mood and considering whether he had spent his life in the pursuit of something meaningful. (That, as I’ve pointed out previously, is the kind of thing that happens when you get older and there’s more of your life in the past than there will be in the future.)
He asked a bunch of surfers (proper surfers, people who have made a living from, or dedicated their lives to surfing) whether surfing was “profound, or just a monumental waste of time, just something really fun. I often wonder if we’re like kids in a playground, just obsessed with climbing to the top of the ladder and sliding down the slide, then doing it again and again for our whole lives, making the slide the most important thing in our world".
"I often wonder if we’re like kids in a playground, just obsessed with climbing to the top of the ladder and sliding down the slide, then doing it again and again for our whole lives"
For some, surfing was a sugary exercise in harnessing bubbling endorphins on lumpy bits of water. The great Kelly Slater (for whom surfing is, I think I am safe to say, a BIG DEAL) even compared riding waves to a dog repeatedly chasing a ball.
My favourite quote, and what most closely sums up my feelings about snowboarding (and surfing for that matter) came from Steve Hunt from Raglan, New Zealand: “it’s a massive waste of time and that is the best thing about surfing, it is a pointless unquantifiable pursuit… but it keeps us happy."
For others, it was profound, a spiritual re-set button which connected them to the planet, the environment and the people around them. Vive la difference, as they say in Spain.
Surfing is (I believe I can say, having both snowboarded and surfed for the last 27 years) a more unencumbered and natural experience than snowboarding. No lift tickets, no queues, no chair lifts, no snow-cannon, no need to re-fuel the snowmobile or heli, no people next to you on phones (for now at least), no people in yellow coats telling you to slow down. Yet for a significant proportion of those who surf (at least according to The Surfers Path’s straw poll) it is essentially, to use my provocative words, just “dicking about".
The logical inference is that snowboarding would be even more skewed towards “dicking about" because it is fundamentally more cluttered, less zen (although anyone who has ever surfed at Huntingdon beach would struggle to consider that a remotely zen experience), and wasn't invented thousands of years ago by Hawaiian royalty wanting to pay homage to their gods - rather someone who wanted to make a fun stand-up version of a sledge.
"Turning up to the park in the wrong colour dungarees is a massive fucking error that could lead to dozens of people never speaking to you again. That’s heavy."
Now, there are plenty of good reasons to take snowboarding seriously. Hiking in the back country requires meticulous preparation, to know your shit, to know how to save lives. Hitting big kickers can literally be a life or death situation. Getting your invert bent out of shape on a 60 foot jump has serious vertebrae-related consequences. Turning up to the park in the wrong colour dungarees is a massive fucking error that could lead to dozens of people never speaking to you again. That’s heavy.
And for many of you reading this, snowboarding will be a massive part of your lives, as it has been for me. I have literally bent my life around snowboarding - I changed my education to snowboard more, met my wife because of snowboarding, we planned the conception of my children around snowboarding, I have changed jobs and moved around the world to snowboard more, spent all my spending money on snowboarding, broken eight bones snowboarding, put my kids in a strange foreign school to go snowboarding, given my kids dumb snowboard-related names and generally been pretty obsessive about snowboarding for nearly three decades. I can go toe-to-toe with just about anyone on snowboard history, snowboard trivia, snowboard movie soundtracks, snowboard movie parts, the history of step-in bindings and which snowboarders are bald. I’ve also seen one of my friends die snowboarding, I literally held him in my arms as he went into seizure and a coma having overshot a kicker and landed on his head. That was heavy, like you can’t believe.
"For me, snowboarding is not serious. The moment I take it seriously, it’s not fun"
But for me, snowboarding is not serious. The moment I take it seriously, it’s not fun. The moment it’s not fun, I may as well be completing my tax return because it’s been nagging away at me for ages and I should just get it done.
Getting all heavy about snowboarding just seems ridiculous to me. We’re not solving world hunger. We’re not saving lives. We’re not building schools. We’re not fighting a war or emancipating an oppressed populous. We are not paying homage to the gods. We are not addressing the great inequalities of our age. We are literally sliding down the side of a mountain on a bit of wood covered in plastic to get a thrill. That’s it, that's all.
It can relax us, soothe us, make us connect with nature, make us re-think our life’s priorities. It can be really, really important and arresting, to the extent that it dominates our lives and makes us do crazy things - as it has done for me. But when you break it down, it’s just for fun. If you can see through the inflammatory finger-poke language, it is basically “dicking about".
Whether you are sliding a box in a park, or dropping into a 50 degree Alaskan face, you are in the pursuit of endorphins. You’re not digging a well for an impoverished African tribe. You’re not fixing the system of global wealth re-distribution. You’re not fighting against an oppressive dictator. You’ve chosen to take the little slice of time that you have on the planet, and dedicate it to having fun. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, quite the opposite, I can think of no better way to spend one’s life than in the pursuit of fun (there’d be a lot less war if we all did that). Just don’t take yourself too seriously. You’re not Ban Ki Moon.
"I can think of no better way to spend one’s life than in the pursuit of fun. Just don’t take yourself too seriously"
And I guess, going back to where this all started, it was my reaction to Rice taking himself (in my view) a bit too seriously that sparked this whole debate. Being earnest and worthy is commendable (and is a very important character trait for politicians, healthcare industry regulators and men and women of the cloth), but it doesn't necessarily make for good entertainment, and it can look a bit silly in the context of snowboarding, no matter how heavy the situation is.
That’s just my opinion. And to repeat the lazy and oft-quoted tirade, opinions are like arseholes (or assholes), we’ve all got one. But, to quote my gran, who also had an arsehole, lived to 104 and made it through two world wars - wouldn't it be boring if we all thought the same?
Here’s to fun. Here’s to a life spent dicking about more than being serious. Here’s to snowboarding.